NBA Analysts were beside themselves picking apart the Chicago Bulls’ off-season moves:
Then the Bulls got off to a hot start, and there was a need to qualify why:
While no one can deny that the sample size is small, there is plenty of evidence that this Bulls’ offense is good.
Let’s take on each of the main criticisms:
There is no way the Bulls will shoot this well for the rest of the year
It is safe to say that this is true. The Bulls are shooting 54.5 percent from behind the arc—and that will not continue—the big outliers being Jimmy Butler (54 percent) and Dwyane Wade (55 percent). But, let’s say they return to their average, we are talking about a drop in what consists of a fraction of the attempts these two players take. Butler and Wade are high tier players because they can score in other ways. So far, Jimmy is scoring inside the arc on par with other seasons, but Wade is severely underperforming from his career averages, shooting only 41 percent on two-point attempts down from a career average of 50 percent. Both are also taking fewer attempts than in year’s past (Butler: -2.1 2PA; Wade: -5.6 2PA). Both will see their three-point shooting drop but should see their overall game improve.
Defenses will just clog the paint, and the Bulls won’t be able to score.
Contrary to popular belief, there are three-point shooters on this team. Doug McDermott and Niko Mirotic are both able to stretch the floor out enough to keep defenses honest. Fred Hoiberg has already started being creative with rotations to get these two in the game and play them with various combinations of the Alpha Three. Wade getting minutes with the second team is something I suggested as a way to mitigate the lack of shooting, and so far that has been effective.
With Wade playing with Doug, Niko, and Cristiano Felicio, they went on a 16-0 run against the Pacers and were +13 during that stretch. Against the Nets, that same combination were +5 by the end of the first quarter and into the second. This is just one combination of many that the Bulls can roll out against teams. Staggering those players keeps top talent on the court at all times, and allows Hoiberg to play matchups depending on the opponent.
You also cannot just sag off of players like Butler, Rondo, and Wade. Leaving these guys wide open for three-pointers is a horrible idea. They aren’t Tony Allen or Marcus Smart bad at shooting. Also, they can all create off the dribble and get into the lane to cause problems. Once these guys get into the lane, both Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson are solid from the elbow. You can’t just let those guys take uncontested jumpers all game, either. Taj shot 54 percent when defenders leave him open (four-six feet away) last year from two, and Lopez shot 60 percent. Everyone on the court does not have to knock down threes like they are the Warriors to compete. If you haven’t noticed, no team can hit threes like the Warriors. Trying to recreate three of the top shooters in the game is impossible.
The Alpha Three all need the ball in their hand to be effective
This couldn’t be truer for Rajon Rondo, but this is how you get the most value out of a player like Rondo. He is one of the best creators in the league when the ball is in his hand, and that leads to more open shots for everyone. You want Rondo to get people going early and often. Now stagger those players throughout the game, and you are never without a playmaker on the court that can find the open guy or make the better play. Ball movement is key to easy baskets.
This is exactly what is going on already this year. Outside of garbage time, one of the Alpha Three is on the court at all times. Since the first three games, the Bulls players are third in the league in frontcourt touches and passes made. This led to them ranking second in potential assists right behind the Warriors. Recreating elite shooting is practically impossible, but recreating ball movement is something any team can work towards. There is no reason to think this level of ball movement cannot be sustained throughout the season. These players are just getting used to each other’s tendencies. As they get more comfortable with each other, passing should take less effort.
Now here’s some extra evidence Chicago’s offense is better than solid: REBOUNDING
It is often said that whoever controls the glass, controls the game. Defensive rebounding limits second chance points and gets the team into transition quicker. Offensive rebounding creates second chance points and extra possessions. The Bulls are currently first in offensive rebounding in the league by a decent margin and first in overall rebounding rate. This is another stat that can be sustainable moving forward, just like passing. Lopez and Gibson are great offensive rebounders. Butler, Wade, and Rondo are all above average rebounders for guard/wing players. This means they have someone who can out rebound opposing players at every position. This has already led to the Bulls ranking third in second-chance points and limited their opponents to 5th least second chance points on the season. Keep this up, and you don't have to have the best shooters in the NBA to win games.
What needs work:
Turnovers: Rondo still makes some baffling passes when he has a wide-open layup, and opposing defenses are already adjusting. Turnovers kill.
Defense: All around this team will need to improve. Butler is an elite defender and Taj can hold his own against anyone, but the rest of the team is full of average defending at best.
Transition: Rondo wants this team to run, and with his ability to find the open man they should run early and often. Getting the ball down the court creates easy baskets and mismatches to exploit. Taj, Jimmy, and Wade are all great and exploiting mismatches versus smaller guys or larger slower defenders.